For Lawyers, Any Old Link to Asbestos Will Do
January 27, 2003
With most of the original asbestos miners and asbestos-using product makers under bankruptcy protection, plaintiffs' lawyers are setting their sights on companies once considered too small to sue. While the companies have plenty of insurance, many have only the flimsiest link to asbestos.
And it is not necessary for their employees or former employees to exhibit any signs of ill health due to asbestos exposure.
- Recent research at RAND Corp. shows more than 8,000 companies are now named as defendants in asbestos litigation -- up from only 300 in 1982.
- The number of claimants has grown from 21,000 in 1982 to 750,000 last year.
- Asbestos litigation cost $54 billion as of 2000 -- and RAND estimates future costs at $145 billion to $210 billion.
- While only three companies had been forced into bankruptcy as of 1982, the number stood at 67 as of 2002.
With smaller companies, plaintiffs' lawyers are eyeing defendants' insurance coverage for "premises" or "operations" claims -- which cover injuries occurring on the insured party's property. Consultants, engineers, construction contractors and any company that ever operated those plants can be sued.
In some jurisdictions with overwhelming numbers of asbestos cases waiting to come to trial, judges are practicing a form of medical triage: hearing first the pleas of plaintiffs who are already seriously ill, while setting back on the docket cases involving plaintiffs who show no signs of ill-health.
Source: Susan Warren, "Asbestos Quagmire," and "Swamped Courts Practice Plaintiff Triage;" both in Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2003; based on Stephen Carroll,et al,, "Asbestos Litigation Costs and Compensation: An Interim Report," RAND Corporation, September 2002.
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